Growing up together, thanks to adoption

Families: More and more people are willing to adopt multiple children, giving the siblings a home and preventing additional separation anxiety.

January 01, 2004|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

When Marlee and Mark Wovas decided to adopt, they didn't know exactly what to expect, but they were certain of one thing: They wouldn't mind becoming parents to more than one child.

The Jarrettsville couple fell in love with 11-year-old twins Travis and Brandon when they met them at a "matching party" sponsored by the Baltimore Department of Social Services in the spring of 2001.

Of all the children they saw and liked that day, the Wovases knew that Travis and Brandon were the ones they wanted to call them mom and dad.

They got their wish.

The Wovases adopted the twins three years ago, joining a small but growing number of people willing to adopt multiple children. What's more, they adopted siblings, which adoption advocates say satisfies two needs: It gives the children a home and prevents them from having to deal with separation anxieties a second time.

The Wovases used a private adoption agency to adopt the brothers, but there is also a nonprofit organization, Communities of Care/Maryland, devoted to finding adults willing to adopt siblings.

To make it easier, the organization's co-founders, Duane St. Clair and Pat Gorman, have joined Homes For America, a nonprofit housing developer, to help provide affordable housing for the new families.

"That's what we're at least trying to be able to do, to allow the siblings to stay intact as a family and allow them to grow up together," said St. Clair, president of Communities of Care/Maryland.

"Right now, in a lot of cases that just doesn't happen because the resources just aren't there. It's more of a challenge to find people who are willing to take more than one kid."

St. Clair and Gorman founded their organization in 1998, modeling it on an Illinois program.

"People can adopt in many, many different ways," St. Clair said. "Our focus is to keep siblings together, to find people who are committed to adopting entire sibling groups."

St. Clair said about 100 children in foster care in Baltimore have parents who have terminated parental rights and are waiting to be adopted.

The parents of 200 other children have also terminated parental rights, and those children will soon be freed for adoption, he said. Of the 300 children, about half are siblings.

Travis and Brandon spent some of their earlier years in separate foster homes. But the Wovases knew they would adopt both boys given the chance. As Brandon puts it, the boys were a "package deal."

The Wovases got the idea of adopting older children from watching a television special that highlighted the need for such adoptions. When they got serious about adoption, Mark Wovas said, he had to curb his wife's enthusiasm.

"Initially, I said maybe two, maybe three, and if there's an absolute need for four, maybe we'd do that," he said. "But she was talking about adopting five, six or more."

After meeting the boys at the matching party - the Department of Social Services works with other public and private agencies to match adults with children available for adoption - the Wovases had their adoption agency contact the department's case manager for Travis and Brandon.

From a financial standpoint, the Wovases said, adopting two boys wasn't difficult. Mark Wovas is a retirement plan representative for T. Rowe Price, and his wife is an office manager at Sparrows Point Shipping Agency. They live in a spacious split-level home with a pool in Harford County.

For many people who want to adopt multiple children, however, money and housing are often hurdles, St. Clair said.

He said families who adopt through his agency might be eligible for housing assistance. A year from now, renovations should be completed on one- and two-bedroom apartments on Ellerslie Avenue, near the Memorial Stadium site. Also, the agency plans to identify houses that can be purchased at below-market interest rates.

"The lower the income, the more the interest rate would be reduced," St. Clair said. "There's funds that are available from the city to lower the interest rates."

Travis and Brandon no longer sleep in a cramped room with bunk beds. They live in a big house where they don't have to share a room.

They no longer live with a drug-addicted mother and a physically abusive stepfather. And they don't have to fend for themselves.

They have a scheduled bedtime. They have chores to do around the house. They take a tap and jazz dance class, and they participate in sports. And they're dabbling in music: Brandon plays the trombone, and Travis plays the trumpet.

They can remember Christmases when gifts were scarce and love even harder to find. Recently, they helped decorate a 9-foot Christmas tree.

The boys no longer have to wonder whether they're cared for or whether their needs will be met.

"Every night I thank God for my family and for those guys," Travis said, turning to look at his parents, "and I have all this house. But even if we were poor, I'd still be thankful because I have these guys, and they take care of me."

Mark and Marlee Wovas are thankful for the boys, too.

"I think that the boys have brought Mark and I closer as far as spiritually," Marlee Wovas said.

"Everything that has happened in our lives ... all happened for a reason. And we believe, all four of us, that it was because God wanted us all to be together."

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